Recently the bug took her in a new direction — in January she left the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), where she served as vice president of meetings and conventions for seven years, to step into the newly created position of senior director of Hilton meetings and product management for Hilton Worldwide.
What was it that drew you into the meetings industry?
Well, it is probably not instant gratification, but it is somewhere akin to that — the idea that you can formulate these ideas and plans and talk to a lot of people and get a lot of data points, and then watch it come to life. I think it is more project-based as opposed to cyclical. You plan it, you see it, you watch it happen, you figure out what you could do better, and you do it all over again. It is that continual pursuit of perfection in the project-oriented environment that just thrills me.
What led you to move from the association world to the hotel side?
I had been at NACS for seven years and really felt like as organizations go that was about as good as it could possibly get. And what I loved about being at NACS was that I mentored a lot of planners. I was able to build a very strong team, focus on a lot of strategy around new initiatives. And those are all wonderful things, but I find making a difference in this industry [to be very important], and when Hilton approached me about this job, it was not a lightly made decision, but in a meeting-planner role you do not get the opportunity to influence the industry the same way that you do in a hotel role. [Hilton] really want[s] to know what their customers want so they can do it better. What an outstanding opportunity to make a difference, and how amazing that Hilton has a vision to want to put the customer perspective around the board table. It is not a sales role; it is responsible to the brands, with the whole intent of helping them understand what the [meetings] market needs, how we need to prioritize and manage that in terms of funding and timing, and then in terms of marketing and communicating it out.
What are some of the differences between the association and hotel sides?
I find there are actually more similarities than differences when you think about the project management of meetings. But the differences are really around size and scope. When you are in an association and you are planning a meeting, no matter how large or small, it is easier to get the communications and all the stakeholders kind of rowing in the same direction. In a company like Hilton with the global perspective of over 3,800 hotels worldwide, when you want to implement or turn the ship, it is not the same — the scope is just humongous.
What advice would you give to somebody who is just starting out today as a meeting professional?
Network. Be willing to pay your dues, work hard, have a good attitude. [And] manage your brand. No matter whether we are in a meeting, at lunch socially with industry colleagues, or at the PCMA annual meeting — always, always, always keep in mind that you have to manage your brand.